Minorities, particularly girls from underserved communities do not have space, opportunity and resources to explore and more importantly sustain their STEM identities. This is even more prevalent in the aquatic STEM fields, including environmental and marine science, ocean and marine conservation. There is very little ocean science being taught in K-12 classrooms. In underserved schools, even fewer students receive an adequate ocean education because there is little money to offer elective ocean science classes, and to provide the necessary training and resources for their teachers. Creating and cultivating good stewards is a manifestation of a life-long learning disposition and should start with our youth. This is so important considering what we know about our climate. The ocean is coming under increasing threats from overfishing, pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, and many other problems. We must act to protect and conserve the ocean before it’s too late. One way that we can help mitigate this problem is through education. Around the world, and particularly in the United States, awareness and public knowledge of the environmental science, particularly ocean science is poor.
Youth participants in the Black Girls Dive Foundation project engage in place-based and project-learning activities that include exploring their local watershed and investigating fresh and saltwater ecosystems. This project’s goal is to broaden the participation in environmental sciences for girls from ethnic minority group who are historically underrepresented in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – to produce environmental science literate youth empowered to address chronic or emerging challenges facing their communities and cultivate environmental stewardship.
A lack of ocean literate people could result in the public making uninformed and poor decisions that could negatively impact the ocean. Studies show that, by enhancing public knowledge and awareness of the ocean, there will be an increased public support for ocean restoration efforts (Steel et al. 2005) and increased individual responsibility when it comes to choosing environmental decisions that help the ocean (Plankis & Marrero 2010). Youth are a crucial component in developing an ocean literate society. A 2009 survey conducted by the Ocean Project revealed that “young people aged 12-17 know and care more about the ocean and environmental issues, and they are more willing to act than adults.” (Ocean Project 2009, pg. 2). Additionally, the study showed that youth influence the opinions of adults, who in turn view their children as better informed on the topic of conservation issues. With such a lack of ocean science requirements in K-12 formal education, informal education programs, such as Black Girls Dive Foundation, can fill this knowledge gap.
To enable youth to explore their STEM identity and cultivate environmental stewards, Black Girls Dive Foundation deploys a culturally relevant placed-based and project-based learning experiences in an informal learning setting that supports building STEM identities in youth from ethnic minority groups; and expand the network of cross-sector partnerships to extend a greater reach of youth from underserved communities who are environmentally literate and environmental stewards of their community and society at large.
The initial seed grant from TPP was pivotal to actualizing the work of the organization and enabled us to carve out a path toward accomplishing our organization’s mission. More specifically, our organization was able to purchase key materials and supplies for the youth to design and build remote operated vehicles with recoding capabilities and use their ROVR to explore diverse marine ecosystems. Youth participants and extended community members were able to engage in the exploration of nature, integrating STEM with the outdoors. Another pivotal aspect of the seed grant was that it positioned the organization to receive other external funding. With the seed grant we were able to implement programmatic initiatives and obtain outcome data, which we could provide to other funding sources to demonstrate program impact.
Receiving this larger follow up award enables Black Girls Dive Foundation to not only sustain its existing program but will enable the organization to expand its reach thus yielding a larger impact. We see this work as having a greater impact on the world by not only expanding opportunities for those who participate in the program and cultivating the next generation of conservationists and environmental scientist, but also broadening the narrative and conversation on what opportunities and resources are required to cultivate STEM identities in a population of youth who are historically underrepresented in STEM,